Stop, think, learn, repeat: the value of seeking constructive feedback.

Hands up who likes criticism? We all say we want feedback, but only the good stuff, right? What we want is to be liked and to have people tell us we’re brilliant. What we don’t want is to hear we are doing something wrong – let’s face it criticism hurts! There are many scenarios where your performance will be assessed, be it in a job application or interview, within group work or presentations as part of your degree or by your manager at work. These scenarios often lead to being given constructive criticism and it’s easy to get defensive, ignore the comments or to argue against them. The real skill in receiving feedback is to listen carefully to what is being said and take it on board, as there are bound to be some useful suggestions in there to enable you to improve your performance.

Furthermore, how well you respond to feedback is likely to have an impact on your potential success in the workplace. Research shows that people who are better at handling negative feedback tend to be more successful at work. A study by Leadership IQ found that 46% of newly hired employees will fail within 18 months (i.e. be dismissed, leave under pressure, receive disciplinary action or significantly negative performance reviews). The main reason for this failure is poor interpersonal skills with 26% failing because they can’t accept feedback, this is because constructive criticism helps us to become more aware of what we do and how we do it enabling us to become more effective.

So the next time someone tries to give you some helpful feedback consider this advice:

  1. Actively Listen: In order to hear feedback, you need to listen to it. Don’t think about what you’re going to say in reply, just listen. Maintain good eye contact and keep your body language open, so no crossed arms or legs!


  1. Be open to suggestions for improvement: Suspend any defensive responses that you might naturally feel and try to keep your “fight or flight” reactions in check, even if the feedback is incorrect. You don’t want to appear unreceptive or prevent future comments. Consider feedback, whether positive or negative, as useful information that can provide you with new insights or understandings about how you or your behaviours are perceived by others.


  1. Check your understanding: Summarise what you have heard and ask clarifying questions to make sure you understand the feedback such as, “What I hear you saying is…is that correct?”


  1. Seek specifics: Using a non-defensive tone and body language, seek additional information, including specific examples of the behaviour being discussed, particularly if the person giving you feedback hasn’t provided you with any details.


  1. Don’t take it personally: Remember that good feedback shouldn’t be about you as a person or your character it should be about how you approached or tackled a task or activity.


  1. Evaluate it: Just as you shouldn’t immediately reject feedback, you shouldn’t automatically accept it either. Get in the practice of evaluating the feedback, carefully considering it for a day or two. Does the criticism seem true; is it something you already knew was a limitation? Does the giver have expertise or credibility to make their observation? Have other people said similar things to you?


  1. Learn from it: Try to see feedback as an opportunity to learn rather than a threat. Take it in the spirit it is intended – to give you an opportunity to improve. You can then put some (or all) of the feedback suggestions into action, improving your performance in the future.

Constantly seeking constructive feedback is a good practice to get into the habit of, and ultimately will enable you to continually improve your performance – in whatever you do. Remember everyone makes mistakes, and even your future boss will be receiving and acting on feedback from others. In fact, the best leaders are those who see it as integral to their role to provide, accept and act upon feedback. Using it as a tool to ensure they themselves and others in their team are continually improving their skills, decision-making, attention to detail and overall performance. Simply put, feedback can become your best friend as it enables the sharing of perspectives and can be a useful career advancement tool.